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Baltimore mayor takes an excavator to kick off the demolition of block of vacant homes in Druid Heights

Mayor Pugh joins the Department of Housing and Community Development Commissioner, Michael Braverman, to initiate the full-block demolition of 502-522 Baker Street, in West Baltimore. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun video)

Operating the bucket of an excavator, Mayor Catherine Pugh clawed down the front wall Wednesday of 516 Baker St., a 99-year-old brick rowhouse in a blighted section of West Baltimore where redevelopment is planned.

Work crews from Humanim had been inside the house and about a dozen others on the block to salvage the yellow pine wood floors and other valuable building material, hollowing them out in preparation for the demolition.

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On the Druid Heights site, developers are planning an expansion of the Bakers View Townhomes community for families with low to moderate incomes. A park is planned for the opposite side of Baker Street.

“People have lived in these neighborhoods for decades, waiting, wanting and urging us to bring about the change that they deserve to see,” Pugh said.

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The demolition comes amid a “new era of investment in neighborhoods,” the mayor said, adding that the razing is part of the administration’s plans to reduce the number of vacant and boarded properties to below 15,000 — the lowest number in more than 15 years.

“Our communities are really poised for transformation and change,” Pugh said

Joining Pugh were Kenneth C. Holt, secretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development; City Councilman Leon Pinkett; city Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman; and community leaders, including Anthony Pressley, director of the Druid Heights Community Development Corp.

Holt said the demolition was funded by city, state and federal dollars, including Gov. Larry Hogan’s $75 million Project CORE that is paying for thousands of abandoned and dilapidated houses in Baltimore to come down or be fortified for renovation.

So far, Holt said, about 2,300 houses have been demolished or stabilized. The goal is for that number to rise to 4,000 by the summer, he said.

In West Baltimore's Harlem Park, why not a robust neighborhood full of people again? Why not row after row of renovated rowhouses? Why not build new housing in some of the vacant lots? Why not green space?

“What comes next is redevelopment, is rebirth, and that’s the stage that the city is in right now,” Holt said. “It is a rebirth of the values that make this a great place to live and work.”

Nearby, 17 of the Bakers View brick townhouses stand along Baker and Division streets. Another 70 are planned, including on the site of the rowhouses being torn down. It is a nearly $2 million project.

The new, nearly 3-acre park will be called Druid Square, and include green space and a playground.

Eight years and tens of millions of dollars later, officials count 16,500 vacant buildings in the city. The city faces two principle obstacles to putting a dent in that number: the lengthy legal process it must follow to take control of buildings, and the rate at which people are leaving Baltimore.

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